To the Duke With Love (Rakes of St. James #2) by Amelia Grey

This book may be purchased from Amazon

Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn is guardian for his sweet, younger sister. Due to his misguided past as one of the infamous Rakes of St James, Hawk is hoping to avoid the Season by securing a match for her before it begins. He has the perfect gentleman in mind, but for one infuriating—and unexpectedly intoxicating—obstacle: the intended groom’s own sister, Miss Loretta Quick.

Having narrowly avoided her own arranged marriage to an unacceptable nobleman, Loretta is determined that her dear brother—a gentle, good-natured soul—should marry for love. Matching wits with Hawk may be her greatest challenge yet. . .until she realizes it may also be her greatest pleasure. For the young duke’s irresistible charm has not only begun to crumble her stubborn resolve, it has claimed her heart in true love as well…

Rating: D

To the Duke, With Love is the second book in Amelia Grey’s Rakes of St. James series and is both my first – and probably last – book by this author.  This is wallpaper historical romance by numbers, and I suppose the alarm bells should really have started ringing when I realised that the hero – who is an English duke – is named Sloane.  Which is such a common name for an English gentleman of the nineteenth century. (Not.)

So, here’s what we’ve got.  Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn, wants to arrange a suitable match for his younger sister Adele before she makes her début, because a decade ago, he and two of his friends played a prank on that year’s crop of debutantes and now he fears someone will use Adele in order to exact retribution.  Hawk believes he has found the perfect mate for Adele in one Mr. Paxton Quick, a young, handsome and good-natured gentleman who lives … somewhere unspecified but far from London with his older sister, Loretta.  Hawk has reached this conclusion because he has never seen Quick:

“… too deep in his cups, and he never gambles more than a handful of DOLLARS at the table.”

Well, I’m not surprised at that last bit, because how could he?  Last time I checked, in England we use ENGLISH currency, strange as that may seem.

Hawk travels to Mammoth House in… some remote location, in order to discuss the match with Quick, only to discover that he is from home, and finds himself confronting the rather scrumptious, somewhat challenging Miss Quick instead.  And so begins the mental lusting. At the ONE PERCENT mark on my Kindle:

She looked pure, sweet, and completely untouched by masculine hands.  A sudden, deep rush of desire flamed through him, and the rhythm of his heartbeat changed.

By the end of the first chapter Hawk:

… wanted her with an intensity that he hadn’t felt in a very long time.

And in the next, we’re told our heroine is all a quiver because she:

… still wasn’t sure what to make of the new, startling, and unexplained feelings that had swept over her at the sight of him.  She wasn’t out of breath, yet she was breathless. She wasn’t dizzy, yet she felt light-headed. She wasn’t hungry, yet looking at him caused a ravenous appetite to rise up within her.”

For god’s sake, someone get the woman a sandwich!

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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The Chase (Brides of Beadwell #3) by Sara Portman

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

According to his father’s terms, Michael Rosevear’s duty is to be ignored–until such time as he is useful. Now that the earldom is in need of funds, Michael is to be sold off in marriage to the daughter of a crass but wealthy merchant willing to pay for any connection to nobility–even one from the wrong side of the blanket . . .

En route to his fate in London, Michael does not plan to board an extra passenger. Yet there is something in the young miss’s desperate plea that tugs at his conscience–though he is certain her story is a fabrication . . .

Juliana Crawford has fled her father’s cruel home. Using a false name to evade pursuit, she must find a private traveler with whom to complete her escape. Chance matches her with a dark and wounded young lord who guards his own secrets just as carefully. The unlikely pair embark on a journey filled with revelations and unexpected adventure–one that may lead them to question whether to part at their destination–or change course entirely. . .

Rating: D

When one reads a lot of books, one learns to take book blurbs with a pinch of salt.  Those that give a basic outline of the plot are fine, but those that proudly proclaim how ‘exciting’, or ‘unforgettable’ or ‘unique’ a story is always see me raising a sceptical eyebrow and thinking, ‘yeah, right.’  Or wrong.  As is the case here.  The cover copy of new-to-me author Sara Portman’s The Chase promised a ‘thrilling romance’, but I think whoever wrote that must have lost their dictionary, or got hold of one in which the definition of ‘thrilling’ was ‘the feeling one experiences when watching paint dry.’ Because there is nothing remotely thrilling about a story featuring quite possibly the wettest, wimpiest, weepiest heroine I’ve think I’ve ever read, who is completely dependent on the hero to get her out of every single difficulty she faces.

Miss Juliana Crawford has spent all of her adult life acting as her father’s skivvy.  Hers has been a very lonely life, but throughout it all, she has had one thing to look forward to; the small inheritance that will become hers on her twenty-fifth birthday.  She knows her cruel, cold father will never allow her to receive it, so for years, she has hoarded every penny she can in order to buy herself a ticket that will take her away from her home village of Beadwell in Derbyshire.  She can’t afford to purchase a ticket to take her to London, (where she plans to visit the family solicitor to claim her inheritance) but hopes instead to be able to inspire the kindness of a random traveller to take her there.  Juliana has lived a very sheltered life, but I’d have thought her father’s example of bad-tempered selfishness would have been sufficient to tell her that relying on the kindness and good intentions of others is not really the way to go.

Anyway. Watching the various arrivals at the Bear & Boar coaching inn in Peckingham, Juliana surveys the available prospects (a large family, a mother and son) and in the end, approaches a well-to-do gentlemen who is travelling in a smart carriage with a coat of arms on the door, and asks if he will convey her to London.  The man is very surprised at her making such a request of a stranger, and warns her that her reputation will be ruined if she is known to have travelled with a man without a chaperone; Juliana insists she is not worried about it, and the man allows her to enter his carriage.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Royal Conquest (Scandalous House of Calydon #4) by Stacy Reid (audiobook) – Narrated by Anna Parker Naples

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After being cruelly jilted by a lord who claimed to adore her, Miss Payton Peppiwell swore her future husband would be as ordinary as she. Now if only her family would listen to her. Then she meets Mikhail Konstantinovich, an untitled horse breeder, in a highly improper and scandalous encounter. Never had Payton expected to be so attracted to the dark, intriguing man, who seduces her to recklessness with a mere stare.

Mikhail abhors anything to do with intimacy. Yet Miss Peppiwell stirs hunger and a need long forgotten in him. But Mikhail has a dark past-one that means his lust must be sated in a way entirely unsuitable for a lady. But his biggest secret will be the hardest for Payton to overcome: Mikhail is not only titled, he’s a prince…

 

Rating: Narration – D- Content – D

 

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Stacy Reid’s The Royal Conquest is far and away the front runner for the title of “Worst Audiobook I Have Listened to This Year”. I’ve listened to mediocre stories performed by excellent narrators and excellent stories ruined by poor narrators, but this one has it all – a mediocre story performed by an inept narrator. It rarely gets worse than this.

But such is the reviewer’s lot. Sometimes when looking for titles to review, I think – “oh, I’ve not listened to that author/narrator before, so let’s give it a go”, and sometimes I’m lucky – like when I thought “oh yes, Alex Wyndham – I’ve seen him on the telly, so let’s see what he does with an audiobook” – and sometimes I’m not. This is one of those times.

Normally when I write a review of an audiobook, I spend a bit of time talking about the plot and characterisation and leave the discussion of the narration until the end. This time, however, I am going to reverse that, because even if this book had been the best ever written – and that isn’t the case by a long chalk, I assure you – the narration is so dreadful it would have rendered it completely un-listenable-to. (I may have made that term up – put it down to my still being traumatised!)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Hot Pursuit (Black Knights International #11) by Julie Ann Walker


This title may be purchased from Amazon

He puts the hot…

Christian Watson, a former SAS officer and current BKI operator, never thought he would return to England after a terrible turn of events forced him to abandon his homeland. But now he’s back on British soil where old enemies are determined to do him in. Fighting for his life is pretty much SOP for Christian. Doing it with the beautiful, bossy Emily Scott in tow is another matter entirely.

In hot pursuit.

Emily lost her coveted job at the CIA because of a colleague turned rogue, and now she has just one rule when it comes to men: they’re for recreational purposes only. But when she and Christian are thrust into very close quarters while evading two mysterious men who want Christian dead, she can’t help but question all her ideas about love and life lived on the edge. Battling the bad guys is hard enough, battling her feelings for Christian just might prove impossible.

Rating: D-

Hot Pursuit is the latest in Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. series which features a group of ex- special forces operatives who now work for a covert government defence firm set up by a former US President.  The book is billed as romantic suspense, but disappointingly, it’s neither romantic nor particularly suspenseful; the central characters are supposed to be in their early thirties and yet act like a pair of hormonal teenagers much of the time, and Ms. Walker has a tendency to talk directly to her audience through the heroine, which is odd and the exact opposite of endearing.

The plot is tissue-paper thin.  After a mission gone wrong, Christian Watson, together with two other members of BKI, their office manager, Emily Scott (who apparently tagged along to keep them out of trouble), and a former marine turned charter-boat captain are forced to hole up in a small cottage in Cornwall until they can safely get out of England and back to the US.  Their anonymity is shot to hell, however, when a bunch of reporters turn up on the doorstep trying to get to Christian, to get the story of what happened when he was captured towards the end of the war in Iraq.  The timing was politically sensitive and the mission to rescue him was messy;  Christian was blamed for the incident (although his identity was never divulged) and quietly left the SAS. He has spent the last few years living well under the radar, so someone must have discovered his identity and location and fed it to the media.  The question is, who?

Watching the news on TV not far away are Lawrence and Ben Michelson, brothers of the soldier killed when the mission to rescue Christian went pear-shaped.  Both are police officers, but Lawrence is a loose cannon – he has never forgiven the unknown SAS officer for his brother’s death and the later deaths of both their parents, and is out for revenge.  Lawrence and Ben make for the cottage hide-out, just in time to witness Christian and his team make their escape, and then follow them to Newquay airport, where a jet is waiting.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow “The Penhallow way” – find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

Rating: Narration – A- Content – D+

I admit that I picked up You May Kiss the Bride for review solely because of Carolyn Morris. Reviews for this début historical romance, the first in Lisa Berne’s Penhallow Dynasty series have been mixed, but I knew I’d at the very least enjoy the narration, so I decided it give it a go. In the end, my opinions about the story are pretty much along the same lines as the less than glowing reviews; it’s nothing I haven’t read before and the author’s inexperience shows clearly in terms of the storytelling and characterisation.

Livia Stuart hasn’t had an easy life. Orphaned in India when she was a child, she was sent back to England and resides with her listless aunt and drunken uncle, who never really wanted her and who wouldn’t miss her if she disappeared. She is constantly patronised by her neighbour and local mean girl, the Honourable Cecily Orr, who pretends friendship but in reality does everything she can to make “dear Livia” aware of her inferior situation, insisting on giving her her cast off gowns and never missing an opportunity to point out Livia’s status as a poor relation.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Duke’s Society #1) by Madeline Hunter (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte Gray

This title may be downloaded from Audible.com.

Notorious nobleman seeks revenge

Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton. Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes. Family history: Scandalous. Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge. Ideal romantic partner: a woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon. Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

Faint of heart need not apply

Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: She’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married – especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere – along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Rating: Narration – D+ Content – B+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Madeline Hunter’s books and I count myself among her fans, but given she’s one of the biggest names in historical romance, she’s being very poorly served when it comes to audio. Her last series, the Wicked trilogy, started out well, with His Wicked Reputation being excellently narrated by Mary Jane Wells, but went downhill when Ms. Wells was not used for the rest of the series. I was so disappointed by Lulu Russell’s lacklustre performance in book two, (Tall, Dark and Wicked), that I didn’t bother listening to the final book and stuck to the print version. And for her new Decadent Dukes Society series, Ms. Hunter again gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop, this time with a narrator who sounds like a teenaged girl. Maybe casting youthful sounding narrators works in some genres, but it doesn’t work in romance and it REALLY doesn’t work in historicals, where you need someone who can inject those aristocratic males with a sufficient degree of hauteur while at the same time making them sound attractive enough to appeal as a romantic hero. To cast for the ingénue heroine (although the heroine in this book isn’t an ingénue) almost always means getting someone with a very narrow range, whose voice lacks the necessary resonance and colour to be able to render the hero and a range of supporting characters from formidable dowagers to old family retainers. Ms. Gray has a vocal range of about half an octave, and her ‘hero voice’ is higher in pitch than my normal speaking voice. In the book, Adam, Duke of Stratton, is supposed to be dangerous – he’s fought lots of duels, he’s got an unpredictable temper, he’s dark and brooding and sexy – but he sounds as though he’s barely out of short trousers. I wanted to warm him some milk, ruffle his hair and ask if he’d finished his homework yet.

If I were Madeline Hunter, I’d be seriously displeased.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Anthony Blake is in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot. But his plans to court her are put on hold when he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for the Crown. A secret document listing the names of the entire network of British spies-including his own-has been stolen. To protect Sophia, Anthony cuts off all ties to her and exchanges his life as an honorable earl for the façade of a flirtatious playboy.

Heartbroken and confused, Sophia travels to India, hoping to find healing in one of the most exotic regions of the British Empire. But the exotic land isn’t as restful as she had hoped. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery of a missing sea captain, a possible murder, and a plot that could involve the prince of India. And when Anthony appears at the British Residency, asking questions and keeping his distance from her, she is stunned.

She still loves him, and, in her heart, she knows he loves her too. But how can she rebuild her relationship with him if he won’t confide in her? Does she dare offer her heart to him a second time, or will their love be lost under the India sun?

Rating: D+

Nancy Campbell Allen’s The Secret of the India Orchid appealed to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, much as I enjoy historical romances set in Europe, I’m always happy to see ones sent in more far-flung locations; and secondly, the premise of a dashing spy forced to conceal his true nature and purpose beneath the façade of a wastrel in order to protect his nearest and dearest is a trope that I enjoy when done well. Sadly, however, neither of those elements is particularly well-executed, and, together with weak characterisation and poor plotting, made for a plodding, insipid read overall.

Anthony Blake, Earl of Wilshire has been in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot, for some time and is about to ask for permission to court her when his former boss and spymaster, Lord Braxton tells him that he must undertake one, last mission. Anthony, who was relieved to get out of the spying game a couple of years earlier upon assuming his title, is not best pleased at being drafted back into service, but when Braxton tells him of the theft of the Janus Document – which contains sensitive information about British agents, their families, their habits and every aspect of their lives, any of which could potentially be used as leverage against them – Anthony reluctantly agrees to retrieve it.

Two years later, still heartbroken over Anthony’s sudden departure and wanting to get away from her memories of him in England, Sophia lands in India, intending to spend some time there under the sponsorship of Lady Pilkington. She is, however, destined not to be able to use distance to lessen her attachment to Anthony because he’s recently arrived in Bombay on the next leg of his tour of carefree fun and frolic (as she thinks), and in reality still on the trail of the Janus Document. All Braxton could tell him about the theft was that he believed it had been perpetrated by someone who worked for him, Harold Miller. Anthony has received word that Miller’s uncle, a sea captain, is a guest of the Pilkington’s, hence his presence in Bombay. He believes the nephew may have passed the document to Captain Miller and intends to meet with him and interrogate him, but before he can do so, the captain is murdered and the contents of Lord Pilkington’s safe mysteriously disappear.

With the help of his friend, Captain Dylan Stuart of the First Light Cavalry, Anthony now has to find a murderer as well as the missing document, but in order to maintain his cover as a carefree wastrel, has to make it seem as though Stuart is conducting the investigation and he’s just along for the ride, which annoys him no end. Almost as much as it annoys him to see Sophia singled out for attention by other men.  And Sophia, who was deeply hurt by Anthony’s assertions (in his “Dear John” letter) that he viewed her as nothing more than a sister and good friend, twists the knife further when she asks him to help her to select a husband from among her admirers.

*sigh*

The problems with The Secret of the India Orchid are many, and add up to this; it’s a clichéd, dull book with no action, no sense of time or place and no romance to speak of.  Anthony and Sophia are in love from the beginning and stay that way; there is nothing in the writing to suggest their attitude towards each other has changed during their two year separation apart from Sophia’s slightly sarcastic responses to him when they meet again, and their relationship is pretty static.  All that happens is that Anthony finally tells her the truth (and I confess I did rather enjoy it when Sophia refuses to believe him at first) and they return to their former lovey-doveyness; and as characters, they’re bland and too good to be true.  In terms of the setting, other than the mention of curry, the odd Indian custom and the use of Indian names, there’s nothing to suggest the location and quite honestly, the book could have been set anywhere.  The mystery is weak and its solution depends on an overheard conversation; the identity of one of the perpetrators seems to be the result of drawing names from a hat, and the other is telegraphed from a mile away.

Ms. Campbell Allen’s writing is decent, but that can’t compensate for the books’ other deficiencies.  I read it so you don’t have to – give it a miss.